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Money Fix: College gap year inquiries are experiencing a surge

Rebecca Natow, assistant professor of Educational Leadership &

Rebecca Natow, assistant professor of Educational Leadership & Policy at Hofstra University in Hempstead, says to check with college admissions offices about their school's policy on deferring enrollment. Credit: Steven Natow

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Many 2020 high school graduates, amid the backdrop of the pandemic, are debating whether they should put off going to college in the fall and take a gap year. For sure there’s a lot for them and their parents to think about.

“There has been a surge in inquiries about gap years for this fall, more than I’ve ever seen,” says Katherine Stievater, founder of Gap Year Solutions in Boston, which provides gap year planning for students.

A lot of the increase came from parents who don’t want to pay for the huge expense of college without knowing what their tuition is being spent on and students who don’t want another semester of online learning after just finishing months of unsatisfying online learning, says Stievater.

But that said, students have been slow to commit to actually taking a gap year. “This may be due to the fact that colleges are still finalizing their plans for the fall and the idea of a gap year is still new to these students. It takes time for some to wrap their head around the idea of ‘getting off the traditional path,’ and delaying the start of college, especially if their friends aren’t considering doing so,” says Stievater.

She does, however, expect to see another uptick in queries and that students will sign on to take a gap year around the time tuition is due in July.

Here’s what to consider when weighing whether to go or stay.

Go for it

Carlota Zimmerman, a success strategist with Carlotaworldwide in Manhattan, thinks given the pandemic, a gap year is a great idea. “Embrace your own version of adulthood on your own terms. It can bring immense clarity to your understanding of yourself and your future. This self-actualization can be radically life-changing in a precarious economy. A year off from school, a year spent immersing yourself in something that challenges you can be a fantastic way to understand the old cliché that tough times never last, but tough people do!’

She says another excellent reason to take a gap year is that most colleges are still trying to create a plan as to how students will live and study starting fall 2020. “Better to give it a year — a year that you as a student, perhaps live at home, and volunteer or work — and then return in the fall of 2021 to an educational system with the bugs out of the system and one that is more conducive to student learning,” says Zimmerman.

Think things through

“While a gap year can provide an opportunity for young people to travel, gain paid work experience, or volunteer their time for an important cause, there are many considerations,” says Rebecca Natow, assistant professor of Educational Leadership & Policy at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

Although some colleges will allow admitted students to defer enrollment for a year, others do not. “Ask the college’s admissions office about their policy,” says Natow.

Another consideration before deciding to take a gap year is college tuition and financial aid — there is no guarantee that a student deferring admission will receive the same scholarship or financial aid offerings the following year.

Will you get permanently sidetracked? Natow says some studies have shown that students who take time off between high school and college are less likely to enroll in or complete college than those who do not.

Many colleges offer for-credit internship, service-learning, and study abroad programs for their enrolled students. Thus, students may take advantage of opportunities for work and travel while earning college credit instead of deferring enrollment in college, she points out.

Traditionally, one of the big attractions of a year off has been time to travel. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s opportunities for international travel and hands-on work experience are likely to be limited. So students taking a gap year are less likely to be able to take advantage of those kinds of experiences,” Natow says.

Ask yourself tough questions

Why are you delaying your start?

How will you spend your time?

What are you hoping to get out of this?

What do you have to lose?

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